Soft Pastel on Pastelboard, 18.5 x 24.5 inches
Here's another painting that will be going to the Affordable Art Fair next month, the first of some Pastels after weeks of doing Oils.
It makes a nice change to do an animal portrait after my default landscapes. Cattle always make good subject matter, and this rare breed English Longhorn was great fun to paint, especially the horns themselves. With close observation of the way light falls on the right-hand horn, I was able to make it appear to be coming out towards the viewer - always a neat trick! I also loved the shadow of the same horn thrown over the face, describing its contours beautifully. I changed the pose for the sake of the composition, in that the cow's body was facing out to the right of the painting, so I turned her round the other way for better balance.
Two of the cardinal sins I see on some very well painted animals, which lets them down, are a) no thought given to the background and b) the neck of the subject sharply cut across, so that the portrait appears to be that of a decapitated head!
One of the most challenging parts of a portrait, is to paint the background in harmony with the subject. No background at all makes the animal appear to be floating ethereally, too much detailed background detracts from the subject, and a plain monochrome backdrop does nothing to lift the colours of the subject and is not part of the painting.
I always paint the subject and the background together, so that they are linked. I believe it is folly to either paint the background in first, to get it over with and concentrate on the animal, or equally, to put it in afterwards as an afterthought. You will see that I have varied the colours and tones of the background here throughout, to give added interest, and to 'lift' the animal from the surface, giving the illusion of three dimensions. The trick with varying tones in the backdrop is not just to use darker and lighter passages randomly with no thought, just for the sake of variation, but to place darker tones next to lighter parts, and lighter tones next to darker parts. You can see this throughout the painting if you look closely - click on the photo to blow it up full screen.
Why I tell you lot all these secrets I'll never know - if you all start doing it, I'll never make a living, so you carry on doing dull, lifeless backgrounds around decapitated heads, please - they look delightful, honestly!